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What if my ex uses Covid-19 to delay divorce matters?

The Covid-19 pandemic has a wide-ranging impact on so many aspects of our daily lives and the family justice system has not been immune to being impacted. The Court has sought to make appropriate changes to its policies and processes to minimise the disruption to individuals involved in matrimonial and family based disputes. Inevitably, with reduced staffing levels and an ever-growing backlog, there are delays to the proceedings caught up in the court system. In this article, we aim to answer one of the most commonly asked questions – “what if my ex uses Covid-19 to delay divorce matters?”

Children

The Court service has confirmed that it will prioritise applications and proceedings involving children. Although there are some administrative delays in processing applications, these are relatively modest in the grand scheme.

Court hearings are functioning on a remote basis presently, with hearings being conducted by video or telephone conferencing. The courts are slowly returning to conducting hearings in person, although the latest guidance from Sir Andrew MacFarlane, President of the Family Division, suggests that a return to the pre-epidemic process will not be expected until spring 2021.

Although the delays are frustrating, there appears limited prospects of a party seeking to rely upon the pandemic to nefariously delay court proceedings in matters concerning children.

Divorce

The court service continues to encourage parties to engage with the online divorce portal, offering a swifter progression of divorce proceedings over the traditional paper applications.

Some delays were seen at the outset of the pandemic, in the early days of lockdown, with difficulties associated with personal service, which by and large have now dissipated.

The online divorce portal was set up prior to the pandemic and has stood up well to the increased demands and rigors of applications within recent weeks.

Matrimonial Finances

Of all the areas within the family justice system, it is perhaps those cases involving matrimonial finances that have been adversely affected the most, and in particular the cases requiring Final Hearings.

The progression of cases has been affected by the court’s prioritisation of other applications, allied to reduced staffing levels. This cocktail has seen the wide promotion of alternative dispute resolution (“ADR”) including mediation, arbitration and collaborative law by the court system and many practitioners alike.

For some, court proceedings are a necessity and delays are expected and therefore, managed. It may be advantageous for a litigant to reject ADR in favour of court proceedings, should they prefer to delay any terms of settlement beyond key dates, such as an anticipated inheritance, a children turning 18 or an anticipated change in the economic climate and associated market values.

If you are in the midst of court proceedings and feel that your ex-partner is deliberately causing delay, whether blaming the epidemic or otherwise, it is important to liaise closely with your solicitor to ensure that concerns about costs and the possibility of a well-positioned settlement proposal are considered. It is equally important to ensure that your “resources” are considered and an infrastructure put in place to ensure that you can sustain your way through the delayed litigation. This extends not only to financial resources, perhaps with a legal services order or an application for maintenance pending suit, but your emotional resources too. Support from a counsellor, GP or friends and family are vitally important for getting through the challenges of litigation.

If you have any further questions on “What if my ex uses Covid-19 to delay divorce matters?”, then please do not hesitate to contact us

Philip is a Resolution member and formed part of the campaign to support no fault divorce proceedings. Philip is also contributor to the legal and national media on family law issues.

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